I am going to be honest, I was not expecting too much from CCNP. Growing up less than two hours from Mammoth Cave, I thought, “You’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all!” WRONG! Carlsbad Caverns was awesome!
On Day 7, as I stated in my previous post, I was going to explore Guadalupe Mountains, but there were bad storms in the forecast. I already had purchased a tour for Day 8, so I decided to do the self guided tour at CCNP. The self guided tour is free with your National Parks pass and took me about an hour to two hours to walk the entire path. I took the Natural Entrance into the caverns and the elevators back up. However, you can take the elevator both up and down is you do not want to walk 750ft down.
On Day 8, I woke up early and headed to start the Ranger led tour I had purchased. I decided to go on the Lower Cave Tour, and I am SO glad that I did! The tour lasted around three hours total and the Rangers were extremely knowledgable about the cave. For this cave, everyone is required to wear sturdy ankle boots (must bring your own), and a helmet with a headlamp and gloves (provided) the entire time.
To start the tour, you must use a knotted rope and walk backwards down 15 ft of smooth flowstone. After this, there are three sets of ladders that take you an additional 50 ft down. I did not have a problem with the rope or the ladders, but some of the other people on the tour did freak out a little bit because of the way the ladders were angled.
Once off the ladders, the tour begins! I am not going to go into detail of the tour, because it is something you all just need to get out and experience! I do highly recommend this tour if you are planning a visit to Carlsbad Caverns. There were no sections that required crawling, but there was an optional route you can take where you get to crawl, and of course we all did!!! A man on the tour also spoke highly of the Left Hand Tunnel Tour, which is another ranger led tour where everyone uses lanterns instead of head lamps.
I do not think you could wrong with any tour at Carlsbad Caverns! Just make sure you arrive early for the tours and wear the appropriate footwear, or they will NOT let you participate in the tour.
Alpine, Texas to Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Texas
The drive from Alpine to GMNP was only 3-ish hours, so I took my time driving and stopped quite a bit along the way. I was looking forward to seeing the Marfa Prada, but there were several other surprises along the drive. The movie “Giant” was filmed in and around Marfa in 1956 and there is now a roadside pop art installation to pay homage to the film and one of its filming locations. The murals were painted by California based muralist John Cerney.
Now, nobody told me this (AKA I did not research this), but Marfa Prada is NOT in Marfa, nor is it really close to Marfa. It is a 35 minute drive northwest of Marfa on 90. Regardless, it is very cool and worth the stop to see!
Finally, I arrived to Guadalupe Mountains National Park! (I had planned on camping here but storms were rolling through the area the next couple of nights. This was the same time Texas was having some nasty tornados tearing through the state so I got an AirBnB). When I arrived to the visitor’s center, I overheard the park ranger telling other hikers that they did not advise to hike to Guadalupe Peak tomorrow (MY ONE PLAN) due to storms coming in during the early afternoon hours.
Well, now that I wouldn’t be able to really hike the next day, I asked the park ranger which hike was short enough for me to do that day. It was around 1:30, and she advised the Devil’s Hall trail. I am so glad I followed her advise, because it was an amazing hike! A lot of rock scrambling and towards the last half of the hike, you kind of make your own path climbing over rocks. This hike only took me around 2 hours and 15 minutes counting the walk to and from the visitor center parking lot. I would rate the trail easy with some moderate areas along the trail.
I really wish I could have explored Guadalupe Peak and more of the park, but hey, I can always go back! The rest of the day was spend getting into my AirBnB and meeting Mrs. Pauline and her two sweet puppies.
Have you ever been on the boarder of Texas and Mexico in June? I hope not. Now, I am not one to complain to about heat and hot weather, but here I am! Y’all, it was HOT. 110 degrees HOT. Luckily, I was able to get the last campsite in the Chisos Basin Campground where the weather was a little less hot. By “get the last campsite,” I mean I drive around until I saw this group of guys packing up and I sat at their campsite until they left. No shame in my game. Look at this beautiful campsite though!
Due to the extreme heat and an unforeseen event, I only camped in the park one night. The next day, I set out to hike early in the morning to beat the heat. However, before I was even a half of a mile into the hike, hikers were coming back down the trail saying there was some bear activity. So…no hiking that trail! With the heat setting in, I decided to just drive around the park. I drove the entire park and did a few short nature walks.
The first stop was the Hot Springs Historic District. This was a very interesting area of the park that I could talk about for days, but I am going to leave a link for you to read if you are interested in learning the background of this interesting location! https://www.nps.gov/bibe/learn/historyculture/hotsprings.htm
There are many older buildings and petroglyphs to explore on the way to the hot springs. It was much too hot that day for me to get into the springs, but there were other people visiting and taking a dip! It is located right on the Rio Grande, which is pretty cool too.
After visiting the hot springs, I drove down to the ghost town of Terlingua, which is located to the west of BBNP. I was not too impressed with this so-called ghost town. However, the cemetery there is worth visiting and not like cemeteries in Tennessee.
After visiting Terlingua, some things happened and I headed back to Alpine, Texas to regroup and get some rest. Overall, Big Bend National Park was beautiful and so overlooked! I would love to visit this park again when the weather is more agreeable.
Luckily, my Uncle John gave me an alternate route to Big Bend that would be more scenic than what I had already planned. I took I35 to San Antonio, then 90 through Del Rio to Alpine, Texas. There were a million places I wanted to pull over and take pictures, but I had a long day of driving ahead of myself. I did stop at a bridge to take a few photographs and take a break from driving.
I finally reached Alpine, TX and text my parents that they may no hear from me until the next day because where I was staying did not have service. Big Bend’s campgrounds do not have reservations and are first come, first serve. Knowing I would be getting into the park a little late in the day, I planned ahead and found this CUTE and FUN place called Tin Valley Retro Rentals. They have campers, boats, and even a car that have all been turned into little, simple “glamping” sites right outside of Big Bend National Park. Just look at the picture below, how stinking cute is this place!?
I get to the campsite after a long and slow drive down a dirt road and I am in love. It has the most gorgeous backdrop and is so perfect….until I step out of my car and it is 102 degrees. Yes, you read that correctly, 102 degrees. I walk inside the camper and it has two super comfortable cots and a little sitting area. I knew when I booked this camper that there was no air conditioning. I did not, however, know that it would be 102 and the low over night only be mid 80s. I got my battery powered fan and sat on the cot and realized…I couldn’t do it. Imagine sitting in your car with your windows cracked with no A.C. and it is 102 degrees outside, that is how hot is was inside the camper. As much as I hated myself for doing it, I had to drive back to Alpine (1 hour and 27 minutes) and get a motel. Before I go any further, let me say, I was BUMMED! I have been looking forward to staying in this cozy cactus camper forever. I also want to say I have NOTHING negative to say about Tin Valley Retro Rentals. If it wasn’t so hot, I would have stayed and I for sure want to come back during the spring or fall.
As I got to Alpine and had service, I found a promising looking motel, Antelope Lodge. When I pulled up, it wasn’t your typical L-Shaped, one building motel. This motel is from the 1950’s and looks more like little cottages spread about around a darling little courtyard. (They honestly could have turned this into an awesome Hostel, but that is just my opinion and it works as a motel as well). Y’all, this place is CUTE. Whoever is renovating this place needs their own T.V. show on HGTV. WATCH OUT CHIP AND JOANNA. I want to live here. Each room is a little different but has a bathroom, super comfortable bed, a TV, and a little kitchenette! The main office has an awesome open and welcoming vibe as well as a lounge room with couches and chairs. The courtyard has over-hanging lights and fire pits. This place is AMAZING!
All in all, everything works out for the best and sometimes you have to shove your anxiety down and accept that you can’t plan or control everything. And hey, you may find a cute, fun new motel along the way to share with people! Isn’t that the whole point of blogging?
After a LONG drive from my home to HSNP (Hot Springs National Park), I finally arrived at my KOA where I was staying for the night. It was a fabulous campground and I had a great shaded campsite (YAY!). ALSO, DID YOU KNOW THERE IS WIFI AT A KOA KAMPGROUND!? I did not, and it was a pleasant surprise.
By the time I had my campsite set up and had a shower, I only had a few hours of daylight (and energy) to explore HSNP and grab something to eat. Traffic was horrible (I mean, it was Memorial Day weekend, I should have known better) and I finally made it to the free parking garage in town. After eating, I walked around for a little while and saw some of the Hot Springs. I also put my hand in one of the springs and YEP they are hot!
After seeing about all there is to see, and let me be honest, there isn’t much; I drove on the Mountain Drive/Fountain Drive in the park. At the top, there is a tower where you can take an elevator to the top for viewing, but I decided I would skip that part since it was about to close. However, there were some gorgeous views from a couple of pull offs that showed Arkansas’ beauty.
Overall, HSNP was nice and pretty in places. I definitely could see how amazing it was years ago, but a lot of the older, architecturally beautiful buildings are boarded up and forgotten. If Chip and Joanna Gaines could get a big ole crew into that area, MAN, it would be GORGEOUS.
Day 2: Drive to Austin
Okay, you guys, I KNEW Texas was big. I know it is the 2nd largest state and is basically (kind of, sort of) the size of Europe if you pushed them all together. But holy moly, Texas is HUGE. Also, people drive CRAZY, and I am a crazy driver so that is saying a lot. Maybe it was the 75 mph limit or the weird on/off ramps Texas has between Dallas and Austin, but I have never been so nervous driving on an interstate before in my life.
Anyway, I finally made it to my “Uncle” John’s house (He is one of my father’s best friends, so I have always called him uncle) in Austin after a long day of driving. I showered and John and his wife took me out to dinner. After that, we talked about places we have traveled, and then this old 29 year old went to bed around 9:30 to prepare for the drive to Big Bend National Park.
So, not exactly an enthralling couple of days, but the weather has been nice and I have enjoyed what all I have seen so far on my trip! Only 39 days left of my road trip, stay tuned!
Cusco is the “hub” city to stay in while visiting Machu Picchu. Cusco is a 7-ish hour van ride (on very curvy roads; not suggested for people who are easily car sick), and then a 2-3 hour hike to Aguas Calientas. If you do not want to spend that much time traveling, you can take a 20 minute taxi ride to Poroy then take a train to Aguas Calientas. But while you are in town, here are 8 other activities in and around Cusco other than Machu Picchu.
In 2017, I made a 2 week trip to Peru. Could I have planned better and moved around more? Yes! I felt I totally failed on this trip and did not see what all Peru has to offer. However, it did give me a chance to really explore Cusco and the surrounding areas and other Incan ruins. Don’t get me wrong, you definitely need to visit Machu Picchu; it is breathtaking and every one needs to visit. However, there is so much more to see in and around Cusco than Machu Picchu.
Make sure when you arrive to Cusco, you buy a “boleto turistico” which is a Cusco Tourist Ticket. This ticket is similar to the America the Beautiful Passes for National Parks in USA, except it is just for areas near Cusco. You pay for the ticket and when you get to a point of interest included on your ticket, they will punch a hole in your ticket. The ticket is good for 10 days and one visit per place. I will let you know below if the point of interest was included on my ticket.
Quoricancha is a nice place to stop when you first get to Cusco. I would suggest getting a tour guide so you can really learn all about the history associated with Quoricancha and the surrounding area. Quoricancha is included in your boleto turistico.
8. Shop and buy from locals
I do not know the exact location or name of this place, but we stopped here on one of our tours and had time to walk around and shop at a local market. They sold beautiful scarves, blankets, ponchos, and so much more. They even had demonstrations you could watch.
While this is a very small ruin, it has one fact that I still remember and will never forget (hopefully). If you look closely to the picture on the right, there is a “hand” pointing to the left. The index finger is under the third window from the left and the hand is under the last window from the left. The tour guide said the rock was purposefully set this way to point out where the spring was located. I have not researched to determine if this is true, but I hope it is true! Tambomachay is included on your boleto turistico.
This Incan ruin was most likely used for agriculture. Due to the terraces at different elevations and the different temperates at each terrace, it is believed that the Incans were able to grow a vast amount of different crops in one location. It also has an irrigation system and steps built into the terraces. Moray is included on your boleto turistico.
5. Pisac ruins
I don’t know why I did not take more pictures of the Pisac ruins. This was one of my favorite places I visited! There was a lot you could explore on your own and get away from the tour group. Much like Machu Picchu, there are ruins of an ancient Incan village you can walk through. I even got lost for a little while at this place because there is so much to see! This is a must do when in Peru! Pisac ruins are included on your boleto turistico.
4. Plaza De Armas
Plaza De Armas is the “center” of Cusco. This place is always packed with tourists and locals alike. Most of the town’s gatherings are held here and there is beautiful architecture to enjoy. While it may not be as exciting as other places on this list, it is definitely a must!
3. Maras Salt Mines
These salt pans were delibertaly dug into the moutain side to produce salt. Do not ask me the process and the how, because I could write a whole post just on this place and how the salt process takes place. Anyway, this place is COOL. It is NOT included on your boleto turistico, but it is worth the extra money to visit and walk around the salt pans.
Yes, you pronounce this very very very similar to “sexy woman” and yes you must visit this ruin overlooking the city of Cusco. I wish the pictures really showed how massive these stones are at Sacsayhuaman. This was another ruin I enjoyed a lot because after the tour guide gave you history of the site, you were able to explore the site on your own. There is also an overlook, where you could see all of Cusco. This is also a MUST DO! Sacsayhuaman is included on your boleto turistico.
Ollantaytambo is a HUGE (not as big as Machu Picchu) Incan ruin that definitely deserves the number 1 spot. There are many areas to explore, but be warned, it is A LOT of climbing! Directly across (seen in 3rd picture) is a large storehouse in the mountain side you can also check out.
Bonus: Zip Line
If you love a good adventure, here is another option for you! I had to check out of my hostel at 11am, but my flight was not until late that afternoon. Luckily, my hostel held my luggage and I was able to go zip line! This company picked you up in Cusco, drove you to the zip line site, and brought you back to your hostel/hotel. All for $45 American dollars! I even was able to fly like “superman” on the longest line!
I hope you visit Peru soon and see much more of the country than just Machu Picchu! I hope this list gives you an idea of what all Cusco and Peru have to offer.
Let me start this by saying I could write 100 posts on Glacier National Park, and I would still have more to say about this wonderful place. Glacier is hands down my favorite place on this planet and nothing will ever change my mind. Go ahead and try, but you will be wasting your time.
Here are the top 6 places of interest (in my opinion) you need to visit on your first visit to Glacier National Park.
6. Cattle Baron Supper Club
When heading to the Many Glacier side of GNP, you will pass briefly through Babb. Where the road forks to head to the park or continue to Babb, there is a place you MUST stop and have dinner: Cattle Baron Supper Club. Is it a little pricey? Sure is. Is it worth it? SURE IS. Vegetarians, skip to number 5, sorry. This is probably the best steak I have had in my life, and your girl here loves a good steak. I even took a picture of the food before I ate, and that is something I NEVER do. Definitely check this place out when you visit Glacier National Park.
5. Avalanche Lake Trail
This is the most liked trail in the park, per AllTrails, and for a very good reason. Most of the time, hikes to a point of interest can become monotonous. However, on the Avalanche Lake Trail, there is constantly small points of interest for you to relax, catch your breathe, and enjoy the views. AllTrails gives the hike a moderate rating, but I would rate is somewhere between easy and moderate. We hiked this trail in the morning, around 10:00am, but I would suggest hiking this trail in the afternoon. As you can see from my picture of the lake, the sun’s positioning is just not ideal in the morning. My parents went during the afternoon when they visited GNP, and their pictures had much better light quality. Also, prepare to circle and circle and circle the parking lot for quite a while to find parking.
4. Baring Falls | St. Mary Falls | Virginia Falls
I grouped these three together because you can visit all three falls in one hike! We started at the Sun Point parking area. First stop is Baring Falls. The hike to Baring is very short and sweet. After that, you head towards St. Mary Falls along St. Mary Lake. After a good little hike, (nothing too strenuous!) you make it to St. Mary Falls. Once you cross a bridge, take a few photos, and eat a little snack, it is time to head to your last destination. After a little uphill hiking (again, nothing too strenuous!), you make it to Virginia Falls. Personally, I think if you make it to St. Mary Falls and want to head back, that would be worth the hike. St. Mary’s is for sure the best out of the three waterfalls. There are several different starting points for these waterfalls, but I feel this is the most efficient way to see all three in one hike. For some reason, I do not have a picture of Virginia Falls, but pictures of the other two falls are below.
3. Boat Ride | Hike to Twin Falls
On our last full day, we headed down to the Two Medicine section of Glacier National Park. We were curious and asked how much boat tours cost. We were surprised they were only $13(ish) dollars. We had not taken a boat ride yet, so why not!? The boat ride included a ride across the lake and a short, easy hike to Twin Falls. The hike was nice and we learned a lot of facts and history about the Two Medicine area of Glacier National Park. There are several different boat/hike combination tours throughout the park. However, I suggest this one because there were no crowds and it was one of the least expensive tours.
2. Ptarmigan Falls Trail
Ptarmigan Falls is a stop along the trail to Ptarmigan Tunnel. Unfortunately, the trail to the tunnel was still closed due to snow and there were bears on the way to Ptarmigan Lake, so this is as far as we could go. Even though the waterfall is a little lackluster (you can not really see it from afar, only from the top of the falls), the hike itself gives you some AMAZING views of the park. The first section of the trail is steep and a little rough, but once you are finished with this first section, the hike is a breeze. Once to the top of the falls, there are plenty of areas to rest and enjoy the sound of the waterfall. This is definitely a must do hike when at Glacier National Park.
1. Polebridge | Bowman Lake
Mark my word, I will live here one day. The only thing stopping me is that my body does not like to function when it is less than 40 degrees Fahrenheit, and it gets COLD in northern Montana in the winter. This teeny, tiny town in Glacier is the most magical place I have ever seen. There is not much here other than a bakery, restaurant, and a few places to stay. We stayed at the North Fork Hostel & Square Peg Ranch. I LOVED this hostel, and it is completely different than any other place I have ever stayed. It is important that you research this hostel ahead of time though because it is not for everyone. There are outhouses and limited times during the day when there is electricity. Back to Polebridge, it is a rough ride to get here. There were small sedans that were driving to and from Polebridge/Bowman Lake, so it is possible for almost any car to make the drive, slowly. We drove to Bowman Lake and spent a bit wandering around. It is a very peaceful lake and we only saw a handful of people around the lake/camping area. Back in town, we checked into the hostel and headed to eat dinner at Northern Lights Saloon & Cafe. The next morning, before leaving Glacier and heading to Yellowstone, we stopped at the Polebridge Mercantile & Bakery. Even if you only make it to Polebridge for a day visit, go to the Mercantile & Bakery and buy something sweet! This is definitely the best kept secret of Glacier!
Hope you make it Glacier National Park soon! Let me know if you visit any of these points of interest!